Following last year’s widely publicised equal pay audit at the BBC, there has been a good deal of concern expressed about the disparities between the earnings of some of the Corporation’s best known presenters.
The BBC’s former China editor, Carrie Gracie, complained that the male Middle East and North America editors, Jeremy Bowen and Jon Sopel, were earning at least 50% more than her. Her complaint attracted national newspaper coverage and widespread support from her colleagues. Last month the BBC backed down, apologised to her for underpaying her and said it had “now put this right” by giving her back pay. Ms Gracie donated the back pay to the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for women’s rights.
She had refused a £45,000 pay rise because this still left “a big gap” between her and her male counterparts and her objective was to secure equality. She will now, at her request, take six months’ unpaid leave. What struck me as odd about the matter is that the jobs were regarded as equal in the first place. It is undeniably the case that, over many years, the Middle East and North America editors have had a much higher profile than the China editor, whether male or female. Perhaps the most stark disparity between the jobs is the amount of significant news coverage emanating from the different locations. However, the crucial difference in this case was that, when accepting the appointment, Ms Gracie was told that her pay would be “on a par” with that of the North America editor. It turned out that he was in a bracket of £200,000 to £250,000, whereas she was paid £135,000 (Jeremy Bowen was in a bracket of £150,000 to £199,000).
Following Ms Gracie’s resignation last January, a number of well-known male presenters, including John Humphrys, Jeremy Vine, Nick Robinson, Huw Edwards and Jon Sopel, agreed to take pay cuts as part of a move to harmonise salaries.
However, one who notably refused to do so was the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, Eddie Mair. As well as being praised for his acerbic style, he made headlines when, in the course of interviewing Boris Johnson on The Andrew Marr Show, he said “you’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?”. In the 2017 BBC survey he was reported as being paid in a salary bracket of £300,000 to £350,000. A couple of weeks ago it was announced that, after more than 30 years with the BBC, including 20 as presenter of the PM programme, he would be leaving. However, the day after his departure was announced, it emerged that he would be hosting a new show starting on LBC in September (his last edition of the PM programme will be on 17 August). It is rumoured that his salary at LBC will be more than double what he was earning at the BBC. When the BBC was directed to disclose the salaries of its top presenters, it responded that by doing so it could start “an exodus of talent”. However, the laudable and tenacious campaign by Ms Gracie and others has demonstrated that, for many, a willingness to accept a harmonisation of pay grades is an acceptable step towards equality.